Reflections on Education

Bertrand Russell argued that most education theorists have no children or if they had, are carefully screened from the turmoils of youth. They write their theories without any child in mind.

It is because we don’t respect children that we teach badly. If we respected their rights, we would educate them so as to give them the knowledge and the mental habits required for forming independent opinions.

To be a good teacher or educator, one must be filled with reverence for the other. It is because our educators lack in reverence that

we advocate for  machine-made cast-iron systems: militarism, capitalism, Fabian scientific organization, and all the other prisons into which reformers and reactionaries try to force the human spirit.

This post by Dr. Wandia is evidence we don’t have great regard for our children. If our educators had any, such wouldn’t happen.

Our education is designed for mediocrity through

its codes of rules emanating from a Government office, its large classes and fixed curriculum and overworked teachers

and this is coupled with the mistaken belief in some educators they have a duty to mould the child into some specific product.

A good educator, that is, one with reverence, in the presence of a child

feels an unaccountable humility—a humility not easily defensible on any rational ground, and yet somehow nearer to wisdom than the easy self-confidence of many parents and teachers

The state, the church and many institutions that offer education do not conduct it in a spirit of reverence, but are generally concerned with maintaining an existing order. And in any case, when the individual is considered, it is almost exclusively with a view to worldly success—making money or achieving a good position.

One area, he says, that instruction is harmful is religion and history. In most countries, history is taught as to magnify that country.

On religious education, he notes, and I quote at length

Elementary schools are practically always in the hands either of some religious body or of a State which has a certain attitude towards religion. A religious body exists through the fact that its members all have certain definite beliefs on subjects as to which the truth is not ascertainable. Schools conducted by religious bodies have to prevent the young, who are often inquiring by nature, from discovering that these definite beliefs are opposed by others which are no more unreasonable, and that many of the men best qualified to judge think that there is no good evidence in favor of any definite belief.

He observes, that as long as the aim of education is is to produce belief rather than thought, free inquiry will always be a dream, never attained. The end of education should, he writes, foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth.

If this is the aim of education,

Instead of obedience and discipline, we ought to aim at preserving independence and impulse. Instead of ruthlessness, education should try to develop justice in thought. Instead of contempt, it ought to instill reverence, and the attempt at understanding; towards the opinions of others it ought to produce, not necessarily acquiescence, but only such opposition as is combined with imaginative apprehension and a clear realization of the grounds for opposition. Instead of credulity, the object should be to stimulate constructive doubt, the love of mental adventure, the sense of worlds to conquer by enterprise and boldness in thought. Contentment with the status quo, and subordination of the individual pupil to political aims, owing to the indifference to the things of the mind, are the immediate causes of these evils; but beneath these causes there is one more fundamental, the fact that education is treated as a means of acquiring power over the pupil, not as a means of nourishing his own growth.

our educators score between E and F.

If we took education seriously, we would treat as we treat victory in war. No expense would be spared in the instruction of children. We would employ as many teachers as would be required, we would provide the necessary facilities that would not only make learning enjoyable but also provide room for inquiry. We need more money to secure teachers with more leisure and with a natural love of teaching.

It cannot be said enough that discipline as it exists in our schools today is largely evil. There has been progress in banning corporal punishment in schools though we still have a majority of people who think, as is written in the bible, if you spare the rod, you spoil the child and would want to see a reintroduction of the same in schools.

Ruthlessness in the economic struggle will almost unavoidably be taught in schools so long as the economic structure of society remains unchanged. The examination system, and the fact that instruction is treated mainly as training for a livelihood, leads the young to regard knowledge, from a purely utilitarian point of view, as the road to money, not as the gateway to wisdom.

When he says

It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education. Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth—more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

I can’t help but nod my head.

But if the above is to be true for all of us, then fear must be shown the door. It is fear that holds men back—fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be.

In conclusion, he writes and I agree

No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumphs that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man’s survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less somber than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create.

Teachers, the ball is on your court.